Special to The Lake Report
Canadians produce 25 per cent more waste around the holidays than any other time of year. But simple switches can keep things merry and bright while reducing environmental impact.
Oh, Christmas Tree: The choice between real and artificial Christmas trees is a multifaceted debate.
Artificial trees are often manufactured in Asia, where factories have lax environmental regulations and poor working conditions. Because artificial trees are made with fire-resistant PVC, factory workers can be exposed to heavy metals and toxic airborne chemicals.
On the other hand, buying a real tree supports local small businesses: there are over 500 family-owned tree farms in Ontario.
There are actually environmental benefits to real Christmas trees! For every tree harvested, up to three new seedlings are planted.
While they reach maturity, which takes several years, trees take up carbon dioxide and provide safe refuge for wildlife. Roots help to reduce erosion and prevent flooding, and each acre of Christmas trees generates enough oxygen for 18 people!
Unlike artificial trees, which cannot be recycled, real trees are given a second life.
For example, the Niagara River Coastal Wetlands Project anchored 350-plus recycled trees to the riverbed to prevent erosion and create wetland habitat. In Niagara, real trees are turned into mulch, which reduces the number of trees cut down to supply garden centres.
Many Christmas tree farms offer a low flat rate and an opportunity to cut your own tree. Or, you might seek out a potted tree, which can be planted in your garden and enjoyed for years to come.
If you'd still prefer an artificial tree, try to seek out one made from polyethylene instead of PVC plastic.
Wrapping Up: One key problem with our gift-giving tradition is the wrapping itself. Zero Waste Canada estimates that Canadians throw out 545,000 tonnes of giftwrapping and shopping bags every year.
Most wrapping paper is not recyclable; paper with a foil or glitter component especially must be thrown in the garbage.
Brown craft paper, even reused from online orders, makes excellent recyclable wrapping paper. You can get creative with designs by using stamps or markers.
Old newspapers and magazines are other recyclable alternatives. In the past, I have wrapped gifts in pages from Beadwork magazine to add a bit of extra glitz.
The wrapping can also be part of the gift itself. Items can be placed into a basket, mug or scarf that can be used again and again.
Paper with plastic tape or curly ribbon cannot be recycled. Instead, gifts can be tied with twine, cloth strips, or reusable fabric ribbon. And last year's cards make unique gift tags.
Most holiday crackers are not recyclable and trinkets inside are usually discarded right away. Seek out recyclable or reusable alternatives, or try a DIY craft to make your own.
Giving Back: We ought not to buy unneeded items just for the sake of gift-giving. Try a Secret Santa exchange, where each person gifts to just one other.
Or, give experiences instead of “things”: a restaurant gift card, guided tour, or class to learn a new skill together. Consumable gifts, like local wine and cheese, are also guaranteed to be enjoyed.
During this season of giving, let's also think about giving back to the planet.
Kyra Simone is a NOTL-born nature lover with a master's degree in biology. In her spare time, she advocates for sustainable change, picks up garbage, makes recycled jewelry, and transforms furniture bound for the landfill.